Entry from July 11, 2011

Today’s Daily Telegraph reports on the reception of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge by some of the stars who are from time to time referred to in the media as “Hollywood royalty”:

It may be decades before they are at the head of the monarchy, but Prince William and Kate Middleton reigned supreme as the King and Queen of Hollywood yesterday. Tinseltown fielded its own version of royalty, in the form of Barbra Streisand, Nicole Kidman and Tom Hanks, at a Bafta dinner in Los Angeles but they were, for once, utterly eclipsed by the real thing. “If you brought Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe back to life America wouldn’t be more excited than they are by the presence of the Cambridges,” said Stephen Fry, one of the 300 guests at the event. Jennifer Lopez, reputedly the world’s biggest diva, lined up patiently with the likes of Quentin Tarantino, James Gandolfini and Jack Black for the chance of a brief chat with the Duke and Duchess. And there was no doubting who was more star-struck. “I just got off the phone from my mum and she said ‘It’s so good you’re going!’” said Kidman. “I think they’re amazing, they’re lovely. They just make you smile.” Jason Bateman, the Golden Globe-winning star of the TV series Arrested Development, described the royal couple as “the ultimate movie stars” and admitted: “We’re just faking it and getting paid for it. They are the real deal.”

Mr Bateman is as usual charming in his lack of pretension — and I’m a big fan of “Arrested Development” — but what can he mean by “the real deal”? What is there about Prince William and his lovely consort that can properly be described as being “real”? The real deal what?

The real deal royalty, I guess, which implies that the connection between movie stars and royalty is more than just a bit of journalistic hype. Jason Bateman appears to think, and I am inclined to think so too, that celebrity is a version of royalty, an attempt to re-create something of the mystery and majesty of kingship for people to venerate a bit like they used to do the king, now that actual kings are absent or politically suspect or both. Of course it probably helps that Prince William’s mother was a celebrity in her own right — though her choice of celebrity over royalty had the effect of enhancing the prestige of both celebrity and royalty. Anyway, I find it interesting that celebrities themselves, at least some of them, appear to think of themselves as a kind of ersatz royalty.

As it happens, Maureen Dowd’s column in The New York Times the day before had been dedicated to complaining that celebrities are no longer what they were in the days of Liz and Dick and Marilyn and Clark Gable — the real deal, as you might say, of Hollywood royalty. Her evidence for this proposition is that movies in which today’s movie stars play yesterday’s, like Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator — Mr Scorsese is said to be doing a new one about the Burtons — or James Brolin and Jill Clayburgh as Gable and Lombard in 1976, have been woefully inadequate to their originals. But surely, this is only because, as the now-faded star Michael Keaton says in Multiplicity, “You know how when you make a copy of a copy, it’s not as sharp as… well… the original?” She puts these and the seemingly endless procession of fake Marilyn Monroes side by side with Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes as Jack and Jackie in The Kennedys. But there must be a different problem, as JFK had to be the real deal if anybody was. Didn’t he? True, I don’t remember him that way before his death made him and all the family into celebrities retrospectively. Maybe they then became copies of themselves, and that’s why they don’t come across well in the movies. If so, I’m guessing the same fate awaits our other two celebrity presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

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